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RAS PN 08/17 (NAM 08): The (Super)WASP factory finds 10 planets in 6 months

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 April 2010 18:13
Published on Wednesday, 02 April 2008 00:00
In the last 6 months an international team of astronomers have used two batteries of cameras, one in the Canary Islands and one in South Africa, to discover 10 new planets in orbit around other stars (commonly known as extrasolar planets). The results from the Wide Area Search for Planets (SuperWASP) will be announced by team member Dr Don Pollacco of Queen’s University Belfast, in his talk at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) on Tuesday 1 April.
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Date:  28 March 2008
Ref.: PN 08/17 (NAM 08)

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NAM 2008

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RAS PN 08/17 (NAM 08): THE (SUPER)WASP FACTORY FINDS 10 NEW PLANETS IN THE LAST 6 MONTHS

In the last 6 months an international team of astronomers have used two batteries of cameras, one in the Canary Islands and one in South Africa, to discover 10 new planets in orbit around other stars (commonly known as extrasolar planets). The results from the Wide Area Search for Planets (SuperWASP) will be announced by team member Dr Don Pollacco of Queen’s University Belfast, in his talk at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) on Tuesday 1 April.

Scientists have found more than 270 extrasolar planets since the first one was discovered in the early 1990s. Most of these are detected through their gravitational influence on the star they orbit – as it moves the planet pulls on the star, tugging it back and forth. However, making these discoveries depends on looking at each star over a period of weeks or months and so the pace of discovery is fairly slow.

SuperWASP uses a different method. The two sets of cameras watch for events known as transits, where a planet passes directly in front of a star and blocks out some of the star’s light, so from the Earth the star temporarily appears a little fainter. The SuperWASP cameras work as robots, surveying a large area of the sky at once and each night astronomers have data from millions of stars that they can check for transits and hence planets. The transit method also allows scientists to deduce the size and mass of each planet.

Each possible planet found using SuperWASP is then observed by astronomers working at the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, the Swiss Euler Telescope in Chile and the Observatoire de Haute Provence in southern France, who use precision instruments to confirm or reject the discovery.

45 planets have now been discovered using the transit method, and since they started operation in 2004 the SuperWASP cameras have found 15 of them – making them by far the most successful discovery instruments in the world. The SuperWASP planets have masses between a middleweight 0.5 and a huge 8.3 times that of Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System. A number of these new worlds are quite exotic. For example, a year on WASP-12B (its orbital period) is just 1.1 days. The planet is so close to its star that its daytime temperature could reach a searing 2300 degrees Celsius.

Dr Pollacco is delighted with the results. “SuperWASP is now a planet-finding production line and will revolutionise the detection of large planets and our understanding of how they were formed. It’s a great triumph for European astronomers.”

FURTHER INFORMATION (INCLUDING IMAGES):

SuperWASP Project website

Images of the SuperWASP Cameras
1)     http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_1.jpg - a close up of the 8 SuperWASP-North cameras.
2)     http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_2.jpg - an aerial view of the SuperWASP-North cameras (courtesy of Damon Hart-Davis, http://d.hd.org/).
3)     http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_3.jpg - the SuperWASP-South instrument.

Image of the Euler (Swiss) Telescope dome

Image of the SOPHIE spectrograph at the Observatoire de Haute Provence

RAS National Astronomy Meeting

RAS home page

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The SuperWASP cameras are operated by a consortium including the Isaac Newton Group on La Palma, the Instituto Astrofisica Canarias, the University of Keele, the University of Leicester, the Open University, Queen’s University Belfast and St Andrew’s University.

Follow up [observations] of SuperWASP exoplanet candidates are obtained at the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, the Swiss Euler Telescope at La Silla, Chile (in collaboration with colleagues at Geneva Observatory) and at the 1.93-m telescope of the Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France (in collaboration with colleagues at the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris and the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille).

The SuperWASP cameras in La Palma and South Africa are operated with funding provided by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen’s University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2008 is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.

CONTACTS

Dr Don Pollacco
Astrophysics Research Centre
School of Mathematics and Physics
Queen’s University Belfast
University Road
Belfast BT7 1NN
UK
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Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3512

Dr Ian Skillen
Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes
Correos 321
E-38700, Santa Cruz de La Palma
Canary Islands
Spain
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Tel: +34 922 425439
Mobile: +34 676227428

Dr Coel Hellier
Astrophysics Group
School of Physical and Geographical Sciences
Lennard-Jones Laboratories
Keele University
Staffordshire ST5 5BG
UK
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Tel: +44 (0)1782 584243

Dr Richard West
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Leicester
University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH
UK
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Tel: +44 (0)116 252 5206

Dr Carole Haswell
Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
UK
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Tel: +44 (0)1908 653396

Dr Leslie Hebb
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of St Andrews
North Haugh
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9SS
UK
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Tel: +44 (0)1334 461674